The sky’s the limit

previous icon When De Smet talks about the mentality in the lead-up to the financial crisis, it’s obvious this is a man who is dedicated to doing things differently this time around. He says, “It was the period of ‘The sky is the limit.’ The business was stimulated by compensation methods, stimulating people to concentrate on the short term rather than the long term. There was always a risk of losing the priority namely that you first need happy clients, employees and distributors, before you get the good results. There had been this general industry tendency for more and more, and that finished in rather an abrupt way for Fortis.”

“If you look today, you’ll find quite a few companies where this mentality is again active. We are choosing to do it in a quite different way. It does not mean we don’t go for performance and results, but we try and achieve this in another way than what I call ‘the American style’.”

Rather than continuing with their previous model, Ageas chose to develop a new internal approach. De Smet explains, “We have made some very basic but important choices. We restarted the company in the first half of 2009. One thing we knew is that we never again wanted to have a need for cash that we could not produce ourselves. We want to be cash rich, so we do not depend on others. Secondly, the capital base - which is called, in our business, solvency ratios - has to be such that we are, even in the worst cases, never under pressure. In the meantime, we have had some bad news, the whole Euro crisis for example, and although we were rather exposed to the European debt, it never brought our solvency ratios in danger. The third thing is that we want to be extremely proactive and transparent in our communication, whether that is financial or communication about other things.”

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